Nicholas: Santa Basil in Greece and witch Befana in Italy

Nicholas: Santa Basil in Greece and the witch Befana in Italy

St. Nicholas Day on December 6, 2013 has long been a thing of the past in Germany. However, it is still expected in other countries such as Italy and Greece.

The benefactor Nicholas, who originally came from what is now Turkey near the ancient city of Myra, today's Demre, remains one of the best-known saints of the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church and the Catholic Latin Church. Various rumours and myths speak of his benefits in ancient Lycia.

Nicholas exclusively as the patron saint of sailors

myra demreAccording to one of the legends, one day Nicholas saw through a window of the house of a poor family suffering from hunger. He spotted her boots standing at the window and threw some gold coins into them. These and many other beneficences of St. Nicholas also led to him being canonized and considered the patron saint of sailors.

Since December 6th was later the day of St. Nicholas' death, it was designated "St. Nicholas Day."

The myth of putting gifts in shoes supposedly also gives rise to the custom of children putting their carefully polished shoes outside the door on the evening of December 5th so that St. Nicholas can fill them with little surprises.

Myths of Basil of Caesarea

christmas nikolaus 06In Greece, due to the tradition of the world-famous seafaring people, St. Nicholas is exclusively considered the patron saint of sailors. Accordingly, he is only responsible for rescuing shipwrecked sailors, not for distributing sweets for December 6th. But even in Greece, which is predominantly Christian-Orthodox, children in particular have a good reason to be happy, because here St. Nicholas and Santa Claus appear as one figure/person, Santa Basil. However, not on December 24th like in Germany, but on New Year's Eve at the turn of the year. On the first day of the New Year, children in Greece usually find their presents under the bed. Putting up a Christmas tree is also almost completely unknown.

Santa Basil goes back to the recorded myths of Basil of Caesarea, who was one of the first important church fathers of the early Christian period in Caesarea, today's Kayseri, in Asia Minor. Basil preached for the rich to help the poor and founded orphanages and even nursing homes and hospitals. For this reason, he was declared “Santa Basil” by the Greek Orthodox Church, who was supposed to make all children happy. Santa Basil is usually dressed in red, well-fed and has a long white beard - making him very similar in appearance to his “twin brother” St. Nicholas.

A witch named Befana

christmas nikolaus 08The children in Italy have to be patient even longer.

There is also a female counterpart to Santa Claus who doesn't stuff presents into the boots but prefers the stockings of good children and only does that on January 6th.

Here it is a witch named Befana who is responsible for distributing sweets and presents. On the night of Epiphany, she flies from house to house on her broomstick, slides through the chimney and gives presents to the good children - but she has coal for the naughty ones.

There are also parallels here with the Witch of the Brocken.

nikolaus befana1The name of the witch Befana is derived from the festival of Epiphany on January 6th. According to legend, Befana missed the Star of Bethlehem - and with it the gift or handover of frankincense and myrrh to the newborn baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men. Now the witch Befana goes in search of the Christ child every year. Every year the custom not only boosts the sale of sweets, but also of thick, colourful socks in Italy.

However, globalization has long since found its way into the area of these myths and rites. Customs and customs have long since changed and adapted across borders. The typical Italian pastry form of the Christmas season in the form of the Panettone cake has long been native to Germany. Like the German Christmas stollen, the panettone also contains candied fruits and raisins and is enjoying an ever-growing number of lovers. The dome-shaped cake, about 20 centimetres high, is sold in cardboard boxes, which make it appear even more voluminous.

The Christmas stollen from the baker Kemal

christmas nikolaus 011Just as panettone is widely found in Germany today, there are now many different types of Christmases stollen in many countries around the world. Originally sold under the name Dresdner Christstollen, there are a variety of variations, including in Turkey. The Christmas stollen from the baker Kemal in Antalya is almost considered to be homemade by grandma.

We were also amazed at a Christmas tree that had already been erected for the first Advent in the living room of a couple with a child in southern Germany. Here you just want to enjoy the Christmas living room decorations a little longer, so the tree was colourfully decorated with lots of balls. A real contrast to the dreary, foggy weather outside.

Please read as well:

Free Hugs - Christmas in Alexandroupoli

Cathedral city of Naumburg – a Christmas dream in the snow


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